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Below you will find applications to the art theory of Stefan Beyst

Ever more examples will be added until there is a complete overview of the most important non-verbal statements about art that pose for art itself.


Baldessari Cattelan Delvoye Demand Duchamp Kounellis Manzoni Rombouts Vautier


MARCEL DUCHAMP (1887-1968)

Fontaine' was originally meant as a joke to contest the role of juries, and was only afterwards bestowed the role of the later ready-mades, just like the bicycle wheel (1913): to demonstrate by way of a chocking gesture that also real objects can become art. That surely is the case when that object is a mimetic object: when it comes to conjure up something other than what it is, as with what the Surrealists called an ''objet trouvé':

judith schils

In the example above a piece of wood is perceived as a dragon. Duchamp's bicycle wheel remains what it is: a bicycle wheel. We are not dealing, then, with a work of art, but with a non-verbal statement about art.

Duchamp has also made ready-mades which are actually meant as such. We will deal with these in the file 'displayed reality' (soon on this site)

'With hidden noise' (1916) is not so much a 'readymade', as rather an 'assemblage'. But nevertheless still a real object that coincides with itself and does not conjure up something else. It is made in collaboration with Walter Arensberg, who had to hide some object in it. Nobody knows what that object is. A riddle, hence. And that goes also for the text in English and French'. “Everything that man has handled has the fatal tendency to secrete meaning” says Marcel Duchamp. And that applies also to this assemblage. But, however much meaning an object might secrete, it is thereby never turned into a work of art.

''Fresh widow' (1920) is another variant. It is based upon a pun on 'French Window' and belongs to the genre of 'visualisations' (soon on this site).

In 'Why not sneeze?', marble blocks are sawn up so as to look like lumps of sugar. When lifting the cage, it becomes apparent that we are not dealing with sugar, but with marble. In so far, we are dealing with mimesis, which is revealed as such through making the intersensory reduction undone through lifting: 'Noli me tangere'. On the other hand, the thermometer and the title suggest that we are looking at ice lumps. But it is not immediately clear then why the whole has been put into a cage. Whatever the interpretation, we are not dealing here with an artwork, but with a riddle formulated in a non-verbal language - a kind of three-dimensional rebus - of which the mimetic cubes are only a part. 'Why not sneeze' does not belong to the section 'Art', but, just like crosswords, to the section 'Sports and Games'.

The rotoreliefs, on the other hand, are imitations: they suggest the presence of forms in a three-dimensional space, where there is in fact only a flat surface. Mimesis hence. But, granted, what we get to see is rather meagre....

In the literal sense of the word 'negative mimesis' are the famous 'erotic objects': 'Female Fig leaf' (1950) and 'Objet-dart' (1951): moulds of the outer and (at least according to Arturo Schwarz...) the inner female genitals that are not filled with some material like bronze, and thus contain the imitated only as a void.

Full mimesis are 'La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même'' and 'Etant donné l'eau et le gaz'. Both works do not consist of real objects, but of imitated objects. Each of these objects has a 'symbolic meaning'. Only after interpretation is it apparent that we are dealing with a series of statements, one about Eros and one about Art. We are dealing here with allegories, like with Bosch and Brueghel. And, although especially 'La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même' is not bad at all when we look at the representation as if it were not symbolic, Bosch and Brueghel are far more interesting in that respect.

Thus, Duchamp has learned us that you can do a lot with mere object, but none of his creations with objects is mimesis, and hence no art. In as far as he uses imitations like in his allegories, he did nothing new, let alone revolutionary. Rather are we referred to the periode where art was desperately trying to free itself from the allegoric yoke.

PIERO MANZONI (1933-1963)

In 1957 Piero Manzoni became renown for his achromes (see 'Art and Design').

In 1959, he begins with a series of 'Lines': ink traces on paper rolls of varying length in sealed containers, signed and sold. The longest measures 7.200 meter. To my view, Manzoni is distancing himself from the 'personal handwriting' of the Action Painters. A statement about art, hence.

In 1960, in his happening 'Consumazione dell'arte dinamica del pubblico divorare l'arte', the public was invited to eat hard boiled eggs, signed with the fingerprints of the artist. Another statement, possibly referring to the debasement of art to a pure article of consumption.

After signing with his fingerprints, the artist proceeds to inflate 'air bodies' with his breath as 'Fiato d'artista' in 'Corpi d'aria'. It is not difficult to guess the meaning of these statements.

In 1961 he packs his own shit in 90 tin cans, signed and numbered like prints. And sold. Many of them have meanwhile exploded. Another series of non-verbal statements about art.

In 1961 Manzoni makes 'Living sculptures'. Real people and nudes were declared art by signing and displaying them on a pedestal. This move culminates in his famous 'Le socle du Monde' (1961) a reversed pedestal that declares the whole world art.

All these objects are non-verbal statements about art, and especially 'Merda d'artista' and 'Le socle du monde' are to the point. But: no art...


Ben Vautier's 'Je suis art' (1964) is equally a non-verbal statement about art, a variant on Manzoni's self-exhibition in 1961

'je suis art'

There are lots of other variants, like 'Tout est art. Tout est marchandise' (2002-2003):

tout est art,
tout est marchandise

Ben Vautier made also many verbal statements about art.


In the late sixties, John Baldessari made some verbal statements about art. 'In other works, the statements are non-verbal. In 'Commissioned Paintings' (1969), John Baldessari concentrates on 'pointing'. In a variant of the procedure of Sol le Witt and Weiner, he makes photos of a hand pointing at various objects, which are then painted by hired artists and signed by a professional sign painter with the words ''A Painting by ....' . We are dealing here with - rather cheap - non-verbal statements about art.


In the end of the sixties,Iannis Kounellis made some non-verbal statements in the vein of Manzoni. Suffices it to refer tot the parrot sitting before a canvas, hinting a the widely-scorned conception of art as mimesis. He became famous with the exhibition of real horses in the galeria l’Attico in 1969: Manzoni's 'Socle du Monde' in practice.

After this initial series of non-verbal manifests, Kounellis suits the action to the word. He proceeds to working with real objects instead of paintings. Some of these objects are displayed reality, others conjure up representations in the mind and others still are mimesis as such, even when unusual media are used, as in his catafalques.

For an comprehensive approach of Kounellis' oeuvre: see 'Iannis Kounellis: the metamorphoses of Apollo'


Guy Rombouts and Monica Droste have worked together since 1986 on the creation of alphabet AZART: art with the alphabet from A to Z. To know how it works, you can visit www.azart.be. where you can type a text which is then immediatly translated in the new alphabet. The coloured lines you get to see are lines of the same nature as the lines with which traditional letters are written: not the lines of a drawing that conjure up something else than what they are. Letter design hence

But what matters is not the design of the letters. There is no doubt that Guy Rombouts has something very profound to tell about the relation between word and image - or to phrase it in more general terms: the relation between art and philosophy - although it escapes his attention that he does so not through translating a word in an image, but simply through replacing one alphabet with another.

Whatever the message of Guy Rombouts - it has not become image and does therefore not belong in the realm of art, but in the realm of philosophy, section statements about art.


A large-scale variant on Manzoni's 'Merda d'artista' is Wim Delvoye's 'Cloaca' (2000) . Also projects like 'Pigs' are non-verbal comments on the commercialisation of art.


In other works of Wim Delvoye, the act of imitation is only a means of making - ironic or parodic - statements about art, as in 'Marble Floors' van 1999, where he imitates marble in meat products:

marble floors

Which inspired Jan Fabre in 2000 to wrap the columns of the Aula in Ghent in ham.

Still other works of Wim Delvoye are 'Visualisations' (soon on this website).

THOMAS DEMAND (°1968 München)

Thomas Demand studied sculpture at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Munich and the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. From 1993 onwards he makes large-scale photographs of scenes
re-created from events reported in newspapers using colored paper and cardboard.

Demand's photograph
s are not art, but illustrations of reflections about the status of the image (instrumental mimesis), exemplary in his 'Thomas Demand "Scheinprobleme in der Philosophie. Das Fremdpsychische und der Realismusstreit"Rudolf Carnap.' (2006)


From the nineties onwards, Maurizio Cattelan has profiled himself as the new jester of the Art World. A jester, however, who understands to completely integrate himself in the Art System itself, wholly in the vein of figures like Dali, Manzoni and Andy Warhol.

Many of his works are non-verbal statements about art. Think of the 'sculpture' of a taxidermied horse hanging on the ceiling (Ballad of Trotsky, 1996, a reference to Kounellis' horses), of a stuffed ostrich with its head buried in the ground ((Untitled, 1997), or of he 'painting' in which he slashed Zorro’s “Z” into a painting, as an allusion to Lucio Fontana’s cuts. '76.000.000' (1992) is a real broken safe from which 76 million lire was stolen, is purported to be "a metaphor for the bankruptcy of ideas in post-modern communication". Other statements are brought in the form of 'performances': bringing a live donkey into a gallery in 'Warning! Enter at Your Own Risk'(1994) (think equally of Kounellis' horses); attaching a Milanese gallerist to the walls of his gallery with Scotch-tape; persuading his dealer Emmanuel Perrotin to spend a month dressed as a giant pink phallus (1994); selling his space at the Venice Biennial to a publicity agency that was launching a new perfume; hiring an actor to put on a Disney-mascot-sized Picasso head begging near the MoMA entrance (1998). In the same vein, Cattelan has also taken on the role of curator and of editor of a magazine called 'Permanent Food' which includes images stolen from other magazines. He is also renown for his absurd interviews (in the tradition of Andy Warhol).

Other works of Maurizio Cattelan are non-verbal statements about the world.

Still other works - although merely wax figures or stuffed animals or skeletons- are genuine sculptures: 'Bidibidobidib oo' (1996) a stuffed squirrel that apparently has committed suicide on a kitchen table with a revolver; Charlie Don't Surf (1997), a small figure in a hooded coat sitting with its back to the viewer at a cramped school desk with pencils driven through both palms; 'Love lasts forever' (1999), consisting of skeletons of a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster (the Grimm Brothers); ‘La Nona Ora’ (1999), an effigy of Pope John Paul II in full ceremonial dress being crushed by a meteor; 'Him' (2001), a miniature Adolf Hitler asking for forgiveness; 'Three kids' hanging from their necks in an oak tree in Milan park (2004). It is obvious, however, that Cattelan's main objective is to shock and thus to attract the attention of the media. Of course there is also the rather innocent 'Charlie' (2007), a robotic sculpture of a kid with an eerily adult face with moving eyes, head and legs, made in rubber, resin, silicone and natural hair, riding on a tricycle, On occasion of the 'Synagogue Stommeln Art Project 2008', Maurizio Cattelan decided to hang a sculpture of a crucified young woman - the "Blessed Christine from a local legend - on the exterior wall of a church in Stommeln, just outside Cologne.

Stefan Beyst, 2005 - 2007

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